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ments with the British Government, and their territories (vide Act xxii.
of 1869, section 9) are held not to be parts of British India. They
resemble the petty States in the neighbourhood of Simla, and are in so-
called ' political ' relations with the District officer. Heinous offences


are tried by him, civil cases and minor offences being decided by the
courts of the States. Besides the territories of the stems, however there
are several villages in the Khasi Hills which are purely British, acquired
either by cession, conquest, or voluntary transfer of allegiance. The
Jaintia Hills, on the other hand, are purely British territory, being
that portion of the dominions of the Raja of Jaintia annexed in 1835,
which it was not found convenient to incorporate with the District of

When the East India Company acquired the diwdni of Bengal in
1765, Sylhet was the frontier District towards the north-east. All
beyond was occupied by wild tribes, who had never acknowledged sub-
jection to the Muhammadans. Among these the Khasis early attracted
attention. By their language and other characteristics, they stand
out in marked contrast to the various peoples by whom they are
surrounded. Securely perched on the plateaux of their native hills,
they have preserved a political constitution to which there is no analogy
in the rest of India. But it was not to scientific inquirers that they first
became an object of curiosity. They possess, on the southern slopes
of their mountains, a rich abundance of natural products, which at an
early date attracted European enterprise. From time immemorial,
Bengal has drawn its supply of limestone, lime, and oranges from the
Khasi Hills. Potatoes, an article of export now hardly second to lime,
were introduced in 1830 by the first British Agent, Mr. Scott. Coal
and iron are found in many places, both of excellent quality ; but the
expense of transport prevents the coal from being utilized, and the
greater cheapness of English iron has gradually overcome the old
reputation of the Khasis as iron smelters.

Even in the last century, the large profits to be obtained from the trade
in lime, known at Calcutta by the name of ' Sylhet lime,' had brought
the English officers stationed at Sylhet into contact with the Khasis.
In 1826, the chief of Nong-khlao, one of the principal of the Khasi
States, entered into an agreement with certain European British subjects
to allow a road to be made across the hills, to connect the Surma valley
with Assam Proper. Several Europeans took up their residence at
Nong-khlao. Unfortunately, misunderstandings arose, and the growing
discontent was fanned into a flame by the misconduct of some of their
Bengali followers. On the 4th April 1829, the Khasis rose in arms and
massacred Lieutenants Bedingfield and Burlton, together with some
sepoys. This led to military operations on the part of the British
Government, which were protracted through several cold seasons. The
last of the Khasi chiefs did not tender his submission till 1S33. From
1835 to 1854, Colonel Lister was Political Agent in the Khasi Hills, with
his head-quarters at Nong-khlao, subsequently moved to Cherra Piinjf.
The inhabitants of the Jaintia Hills, who call themselve


and are called Santengs or Syntengs by the Khasis, have a less
interesting history. They first became British subjects in 1835. In
that year, the last Raja of Jaintia, Rajendra Singh, was deposed on
the charge of complicity with certain of his tribesmen who had carried
off three British subjects from Nowgong District, and barbarously
immolated them at a shrine of Kali. That portion of his territory
lying in the plains was incorporated with the District of Sylhet ; and
the Raja voluntarily resigned the hill portion, of which also we took
possession. The indigenous revenue system was continued, consist-
ing simply of the payment of a he-goat once a year from each village.
In i860, however, a house-tax was imposed, the highest limit of which
was 1 rupee (2s.) per house. This measure of direct taxation was very
obnoxious to the Santengs, and it led to outbreaks, which had to be
suppressed by force.

In the following year, fresh taxation was introduced in the shape of
judicial stamps, the schedules of the income-tax, and imposts upon
fisheries and wood-cutting. The absence of any resident European
officer, and the injudicious acts of certain subordinates, precipitated a
general insurrection. In January 1862, the thdnd or police station of
Jowai was burnt to the ground ; the garrison of sepoys was besieged,
and all show of British authority was quickly swept away throughout
the hills. The Santengs fought bravely for their independence, and at
first were successful in cutting off several small detachments of police
and sepoys. Their only weapons were bows and arrows. Their defences
consisted of a series of strong stockades, the pathways leading to which
were thickly planted with pdnjis or little bamboo spikes. At last it
was found necessary to move regular troops into the country. The
military operations were tedious and harassing. The rebel chiefs were
captured one by one, and the District was declared to be finally pacified
in March 1863, after the rebellion had lasted for fifteen months. Various
measures of improvement were introduced into the administration, and
the Santengs, like the Khasis, have ever since remained peaceable and

Physical Aspects. — The District consists of a succession of plateaux,
deeply furrowed by the action of streams, and rising in shelves from
one level to another. On the southern side, towards Sylhet, the moun-
tains rise precipitously from the valley of the Barak. The first plateau
is met with at the height of about 4000 feet above sea-level. Farther
north is another plateau, on which is situated the station of Shillong,
4900 feet above the sea ; behind lies the Shillong range, of which the
highest peak rises to 6449 feet. On the north side, towards Kamrup,
are two similar plateaux of lower elevation. The general appearance
of all these table-lands is that of undulating downs, covered with grass,
but destitute of large timber.


On the whole, the Khasi Hills are remarkable for the abscr
forest. At an elevation of 3000 feet, the indigenous pine (Pinus I
predominates over all other vegetation, and forms almost pure pine
forests. The highest peaks are clothed with magnificent chin
timber trees, which superstition has preserved from the axe of the
woodcutter. The characteristic trees in these sacred groves are those
of a temperate zone, chiefly consisting of oaks, chestnuts, magnolias,
etc. Beneath the shade grow rare orchids, rhododendrons, and wild
cinnamon. The streams that find their way through the hills are
merely mountain torrents, navigable by canoes only in their lower
reaches. As they approach the plains, they form rapids and cascades,
and many of them pass through narrow gorges of wild beauty.

The forests are too scanty to furnish any considerable source of
revenue. The total area of ' unreserved forest,' i.e. land covered
with timber trees and not at present required for jum cultivation, is
only 150 square miles. Besides a small forest area in the vicinity
of Shillong, 36 tracts are reserved in the Khasi, and 21 in the
Jaintia Hills. An experimental cinchona plantation was established
near Nong-khlao, but has now been abandoned.

The natural wealth of the Khasi Hills is confined to the limestone
quarries along the southern slope. From time immemorial, Bengal has
drawn its supply of lime from this source, and the quarries are literally
inexhaustible. In 1881-82, the total export of lime was 1,598,117
maunds, valued at ,£27,943. The revenue derived by Government
was ,£3837, and the native chiefs received in addition over ^"600.
The quarries are chiefly situated in the beds and on the banks of
rivers ; and the stone is transported by water to the Surma, where it
is either at once calcined or placed in the lump upon larger v
for shipment to Bengal.

Coal of excellent quality crops out at Cherra Piinji, La-ka-dong,
Laur, and several other places ; but owing to difficulty of transport and
the high price of labour, these deposits have never yet been remunera-
tively worked. Iron-ore, in the shape of crystals of magnetic iron, is
found in the decomposed granite of the central axis of the hills. These
are separated from the lighter elements of the stone by the action of
water, and reduced with the help of charcoal. In former days the
Khasis were renowned as smelters of iron. Recently, however, the
cheapness of the iron imported from England has almost succeeded in
driving the native commodity out of the market.

Among other natural products may be mentioned beeswax, lac, and
caoutchouc. Wild animals of all kinds abound, including elephants,
rhinoceros, tigers, buffaloes, mithuns or wild cows, and many varieties
of deer. The rivers swarm with fish j the mdhsir especially is excellent
both for sport and for the table.


Natural Phenomena. — Many peculiar caves and caverns are found
in the limestone rock formation, the most notable being the caves at
Cherra Piinji and at Riipnath in Amwi At the latter place the caverns
extend a great distance beneath the earth, one being imagined by the
people to reach as far as China, and a Hindu legend states that a
Chinese army once marched by this route to the invasion of India.
In another cave, the limestone stalactites have been carved into images
representing the gods of the Hindu pantheon. On the banks of the
Kapili river on the Cachar border, at a place called Sumir, there is a
hot spring, the water of which contains carbonate of lime.

The People. — No early estimates of the population exist. In 1881, an
enumeration was taken mainly through the agency of the native chiefs.
The results show a total population in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills
of 169,360 persons, dwelling in 1546 villages and in 35,048 houses.
These figures give an average of 27*5 persons per square mile, 109
persons per village, and 4*83 persons per house. Divided according
to sex, there are 80,543 males and 88,817 females; proportion of
males, 47*55 per cent. Divided according to age, there are, under 15
years, 33,986 boys and 33,709 girls; total children, 67,695, or 39-97
per cent, of the population. The religious classification of the people
shows 160,976 aborigines, 5692 Hindus, 570 Muhammadans, 15
Brahmos, and 2107 Christians, including 212 Europeans and Eurasians,
and 1895 native converts.

As is clearly shown by the above figures, the two races of Khasis
and Santengs have succeeded in preserving to the present day their
primitive isolation, free from the interference of Hinduism. They
still maintain their indigenous forms of belief and religious worship,
and repudiate alike the authority of Brahmans and the entire system
of caste. They have in the Jaintia Hills given way somewhat to
Hindu prejudices so far as regards purity of food. The compara-
tively few Hindus to be found in the hills either belong to the
regiments as soldiers and camp followers, or are attached in some
capacity to the Government offices, or are private servants. Some
of the local traders, too, are Hindus from other parts of India.
There is no emigration, except in the case of the labourers who proceed
southward every year to work on the tea-gardens in Cachar and

The Khasis occupy a position of isolation among the hill tribes by
whom they are surrounded, in language, national characteristics, and
political institutions. From the point of view of ethnology, they are
commonly classed with the neighbouring Santengs, Garos, Nagas,
Cacharis, etc., as a sub-division of the Indo-Chinese branch of the
human family. Their physiognomy, colour, and physical appearance
would place them among these tribes ; but their language has no


analogy elsewhere in the whole of India. It has been described as
'monosyllabic in the agglutinative stage.' The greater number of the
words used are monosyllabic roots; the compounds arc mere juxta-
positions of these roots. The Khasis have no written character or
literature, but traditions abound. The missionaries use school-books
printed in the Roman character, into which the Old and
Testaments, and several religious and other books have been trans
literated. The Khasi political organization consists of a number
of petty States or democracies, presided over by elective chiefs.
The Hindu village community, the hereditary Raja of some neigh-
bouring States, and the military general of others, are alike unknown to

The most curious of their social customs is the importance attached
to female descent and female authority. The husband marries into
the wife's family, the wife or her mother being regarded as the head of
the household. Property brought by the husband to the wife's house
reverts to his own family at his death, being, together with his ashes
after cremation, made over by his widow and children to the youngest
sister of the deceased, who inherits all ancestral property, and property
acquired previous to marriage. Property acquired during wedlock goes
at the death of the husband f o the widow and children, but this custom
varies in different parts of the country, the inhabitants of the southern
slopes and valleys recognising no difference between property acquired
previous to or after marriage. Children here inherit all property. W
there are no children, the property goes, on the death of the husband,
to the nearest of kin who performed the funeral obsequies. Relatives
who do not join in the performance of such ceremonies do not share.
If the children are minors, and incapable of performing the funeral
ceremonies, the property becomes temporarily alienated to the relatives
who perform the same, but passes to the children when grown up, on
payment of the expenses incurred by the relatives.

The Khasis still maintain their aboriginal forms of belief, and
repudiate alike the authority of Brahmans, and the entire system <>i
caste. To some extent, however, they have given way to Hindu
prejudices in the matter of purity of food. The ashes of the dead are
buried under cromlechs or dolmens, consisting of four upright slabs of
stones covered over by a fifth slab. [A fuller account of the Khasi
tribe will be found in Colonel Dalton's Ethnology of Bengal, pp. 54-58
(Calcutta, 1872), and in the Statistical Account of Assam, vol. li. pp.
215-220 (London, Triibner & Co., 1879).]

Condition of the People.— Both. Khasis and Santengs are a prosperous
people. Adult males earn as much as a shilling a day as common
labourers, and adult females as much as eightpence. The dwellings <>t
the well-to-do classes are generally constructed of masonry, with a


thatched roof and a plank floor, and divided into two or three rooms.
The furniture consists of a rough bedstead, a seat or two, some cooking
utensils, and a few boxes. The ordinary peasants and poorer classes
construct their huts of stone, mud or plank walls, with a thatch or cane
roof. They are fitted with wooden platforms or loose planks placed on
the ground to serve as beds.

The food of the well-to-do classes consists of rice, fish, fowl, or
meat, curry, vegetables, oil, hog's lard, and fermented or spirituous
liquor ; the expenses of an average-sized household being estimated at
about £2, 1 os. per month. An ordinary husbandman or labourer lives
on rice, dry fish, occasionally a little meat, oil, or hog's lard ; the esti-
mated cost of living for an averaged-sized household being about 16s.
per month. The few Hindus found in the hills are mere temporary
residents, engaged in civil and military employ, who always contem-
plate returning to their own homes. The traders are for the most part
natives of the hills; for the Marwari merchants, who penetrate into
every other corner of Assam, have been able to obtain no footing here
in the face of Khasi competition.

The only places in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills larger than villages
are the two British stations of Shillong and Jowai, and the native
towns of Cherra Punji and Shella Punji. Cherra Piinji was the
chief civil station in the District until 1864, and it is still the
centre of the operations of the Welsh Calvinistic Mission. In 1864,
the District head-quarters were removed to Shillong, which was selected
in 1874 as the permanent seat of the local government of Assam.
According to the enumeration of 1881, Shillong then contained 3640
inhabitants. A good cart-road was opened up between Gauhati in the
Brahmaputra valley and Shillong a few years ago, afterwards extended
to Cherra Piinji, to which place it was opened throughout in January
1883. Large sums of money have also been expended on the erection
of public buildings in Shillong. Sanitation is carefully attended to, and
an excellent supply of water is conveyed into the town by means of an
aqueduct. A project for the supply of a perfectly pure drinking supply
to the station was completed in 1883 from a stream running from the
high range behind it. Such a supply has also been provided for
the cantonments, and for the fast-growing Khasi suburb of Maokhor,
which lies to the north of the civil station. Shillong is now supplied
with as pure and abundant a water-supply as any station in India.
Jowai is the residence of the Assistant Commissioner of the Jaintia

Agriculture. — The chief cereal crop cultivated by the Khasis is rice,
but even of this they do not grow sufficient for their own consumption.
The rice crop is cultivated in two ways — (1) on low marshy land, which
can be regularly irrigated by means of artificial channels cut from the


adjoining hill streams; (2) on high lands, where the grass and low
jungle have been previously cut down and burned on the 8]
crops grown for food are Indian corn, millet, 'Job's tears, 1 pulses, and
an esculent tuberous root called soh-phlang, resembling a small ;

Pan or betel-leaf and supdri or betel-nut are largely grown, bcX
consumption and export. The following four crops are cultiva:
large quantities, chiefly for exportation to Bengal:— (1) Potato
oranges, (3) pine-apples, (4) tezpdt or bay-leaves. Sugar-cane
in some places, and cotton in the lower hills towards the Brahmaputra
valley. Potatoes were first introduced into the hills in 1830. In
1876-77, the export of potatoes was estimated at 74S0 tons, valued at
,£50,125. Orange, limes, and pine-apples are grown to great perfec-
tion on the southern slopes of the hills, whence Calcutta draws its
supply of these fruits. In 1876-77, the export of oranges was valued
at .£3760, and of pine-apples at ,£8oo.

In the Jaintia Hills the use of the plough is common, but in the
Khasi Hills no agricultural implement is to be seen except the
hoe. Manure in the form of cow-dung is generally used for rice
and potatoes. Irrigation is regularly practised, the water being
brought to the land by means of channels cut from the numerous hill
streams in the neighbourhood of the fields. Wells and tanks are
unknown. The total area under cultivation is estimated at only 302
square miles, but an additional 3882 square miles are cultivable. The
principal crops are thus distributed — rice, 59,880 acres; other food-grains,
57,820 acres; potatoes, 33,880 acres ; cotton, 1076 acres; tea, 224 acres.
The average out-turn per acre is returned at 6 cwt. of rice, 2 cwt. of other
food-grains, 40 cwt. of potatoes, and \\ cwt. of cotton. The relations
of landlord and tenant do not exist throughout the hills. The land
is the absolute property of the cultivators, who occupy and cultivate
their hereditary lands, and who pay no rent or revenue either to the
British Government or to their own chiefs. Natural calamities, such
as blight, flood, or drought, are almost unknown, and have never
occurred on such a scale as to affect the general harvest. The price
of rice is directly determined by the rates ruling in the neighbouring
markets of Sylhet and Kamriip, from which the larger portion of the
food supply is drawn.

Comnierce, etc. — The trade of the Khasi Hills is very considerable.
This tract possesses almost a monopoly of certain valuable prod
and the natives, who are notoriously keen at a bargain, retain all the
profits in their own hands. According to estimates carefully compiled
by the Deputy Commissioner, the exports in 1876-77 were vah:
,£160,000, chiefly potatoes, limestone, cotton, stick-lac, tezpdt or bay-
leaves, oranges, betel-nuts, and betel-leaves. The imports were valued
at .£157,000, chiefly rice, dry fish, cotton, cloth, salt, wheat-flour,



tobacco, oil, and ghi. By far the greater portion of the trade is con-
ducted at a row of markets along the southern foot of the hills, of
which Chhatak on the Surma, in Sylhet District, is the most important.
The trade on the Kamriip side is comparatively small, except for the
importation of rice.

The chief means of communication in the District is the road opened
in 1877 f° r wheeled traffic from Gauhati to Shillong, on the Brahma-
putra. This road is 64 miles in length, and its construction is described
as a model of engineering skill. It has since been extended to
Cherra Piinji, a further distance of about 30 miles, and is open for
wheeled traffic throughout. There are seven other roads through the
hills, maintained at the public expense. These are — (1) Shillong to
Sohrarim via Laitlyngkot ; (2) Shillong to Jowai j (3) Jowai to Jaintia-
pur ; (4) Jowai to Nurtiang ; (5) Shillong to Sympur ; (6) Shillong to
Nongstoin ; (7) Maophlang to Jirang via Nong-khlao. The manufac-
tures of the District are insignificant. Besides a decaying business in
iron-smelting, they comprise coarse cotton and randia cloth, plain silver-
work, rude implements of husbandry, netted bags made of pine-apple
fibre, common pottery, mats, and baskets.

Administration. — The Khasi and Jaintia Hills constitute a Political
Agency, independent of the ordinary jurisdiction. The British territory,
which consists of the whole of the Jaintia Hills, the stations of Shillong
and Cherra Piinji, and a number of villages in the Khasi Hills, is
administered under a special code by the Deputy Commissioner and
his Assistants. The Khasi petty States, 25 in number, are presided
over by elective chiefs, variously styled Seims, Wahadadars, Sardars,
and Langdohs. These chiefs have jurisdiction over their own sub-
jects in all cases except homicide. The British Government undertakes
the management of the natural products of the country, such as lime,
coal, timber, and elephants, and pays over to the chiefs a half share
of the profits. Their other sources of revenue are market dues, court
fines, and various cesses. Their aggregate income is approximately
estimated at ^3200, of which about .£600 is derived from lime

In 1881-82, the total revenue of the District to the British Govern-
ment amounted to ^10,700, of which the larger portion came from
royalties on lime quarries and the house-tax ; the expenditure in the
same year was ,£10,91 7. The house-tax is levied throughout the
Jaintia Hills, and from the British villages in the Khasi Hills, at the
rate of 2s. or 4s. per house ; in 1881-82, the total realized was £1660.
The land-tax is applied to some petty holdings in the Jaintia Hills, a
few building sites at Jowai and Cherra Piinji, and the waste land grants
at the foot of the Jaintia Hills towards Sylhet; the total is only ^197
a year, derived from 34 estates. In 1881-82, there were 4 magisterial


and 3 civil courts in the District, and 2 European officers. 'I be
quarters of a regiment of Assam Light Infantry arc .stationed al
long, with an outpost at Jowai. For police purposes, the District is
divided into 3 thdnds or police circles, with 2 outposts. In
the regular police force numbered 168 men of all ranks, maintained
at a total cost of ^2854. These figures show 1 policeman to
36*68 square miles of area, or to every 1008 persons of the population;
the cost being 9s. 3d. per square mile and 4d. per head. The adminis-
tration of justice is mainly conducted in criminal cases by the petty
chiefs, and in civil cases before panchdyats or indigenous courts of
arbitration ; only heinous crimes or important suits are referred to the
British officers. In 1881, the number of offences reported was 172;

Online LibraryWilliam Wilson HunterThe imperial gazetteer of India (Volume 8) → online text (page 21 of 64)